Mancini’s Saudis, ‘Middle Eastern physicals’ are more to watch out for than tight organization

South Korea takes on Saudi Arabia in the round of 16. The biggest thing to watch out for is organization rather than physicality.

The South Korean men’s national soccer team, led by Jürgen Klinsmann, will face Saudi Arabia in the round of 16 at 1:00 a.m. ET on June 31 at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar. South Korea finished second in Group E and Saudi Arabia topped Group F to advance to the Round of 16.

Compared to other Middle Eastern countries, Saudi Arabia is not a very physical team. This is mainly due to their height. Whereas the center backs of Jordan, who Korea struggled against, and Iraq, who played a test match, are basically all over 6-foot-2, the only Saudi center back over 6-foot-2 is Aoun Alsaluli, who made his Asian Cup debut in the third game of the group stage.

Up front, it’s not much different. Saudi ace Salem Aldausari is by no means a player whose strength is his size. Firas Alburaikhan is also not a physical player, and Abdulrahman Gharib is not a physical player at all. Only midfielder Mohammed Khanno plays a more physical style of soccer, but even he is more technical in his dribbling and passing.

Rather, it’s more of a solid defensive organization than physicality that the Saudis need to be wary of. Throughout his coaching career, Roberto Mancini has been known to win games with a strong defensive organization. Saudi Arabia’s three at the back tactic has served them well, conceding just one penalty in the group stage and only two shots on target in three games.

The attacking work was a combination of individual skill and organization. Aldausari and Kanno, who continued to start up front, worked well together to create threatening attacking situations. However, there were some disappointing moments of finishing, such as only scoring two goals against a two-man Kyrgyzstan and being repeatedly caught in Thailand’s offside trap, which resulted in only four goals in the group stage.

The real power differential of Oman, Kyrgyzstan, and Thailand against Saudi cannot be ignored. The Saudis are one of the favorites to win the Asian Cup, while the other three teams are largely unheralded. Likewise, it could be a different story against the Asian Cup favorites.

The Saudis are less physical than Mancini’s other teams. Their height and physicality, as well as their running game, are more of a weakness than a strength. What they lack in physicality compared to other Middle Eastern nations, they make up for with solid organization. With a good center back in Kim Min-jae and a number of fast players, there are plenty of spots for South Korea to attack the Saudis.

The Saudis have brought in a lot of foreign players this season, which has had the side effect of diminishing the quality of their domestic players, but the players who have survived are leading the way, and Mancini has done a good job of blending them together to create a solid team. While South Korea has struggled physically against the Middle Eastern nations so far, the Saudis will have a harder time breaking through their tight organization.


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